The Miami Heat’s “AA Arena” may have another name next year, with American Airlines out of negotiations with Miami-Dade County for sponsorship of the county-owned facility.
The county’s chief financial officer told Miami Today this week that American, Miami’s largest airline and the arena’s sponsor since it opened in 1999, is no longer “in the mix” for a new naming-rights deal needed by 2020. An American representative confirmed Wednesday that the airline was no longer pursuing a renewal of the arena deal. It told the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez last year it hoped to remain the sponsor.
“American Airlines is proud to call Miami home. We are not seeking to renew naming rights for the arena, but remain the official airline of the Miami Heat and continue to invest in programs that support the community, where 13,500 American team members live and work,” said Alexis Aran Coello, communications manager for the Texas-based airline, which also has its name on the NBA arena in Dallas. “We wish Miami-Dade County well in their search for a new sponsor.”
A new name would mean significant changes for the home of the Heat, which has a massive airplane silhouette on its roof and American’s brand near center court. The pending sponsorship switch is the long-term result of changes to Miami-Dade’s deal with the Heat for the tax-funded arena, which costs the county about $5.5 million a year in subsidies.
Part of the original funding package gave the Heat, owned by Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison and partners, rights to control the sponsorship and sell the name of the arena. The American deal expires Dec. 31. Miami-Dade opted last fall to exercise its right to take over the naming rights and negotiate a new sponsorship arrangement.
Miami-Dade CFO Ed Marquez told Miami Today that at least one “nationally renowned company” has toured the arena and is in the running to be the title sponsor in 2020. Gimenez communications director Myriam Marquez said Wednesday that “American Airlines had expressed some time ago that they would focus their marketing efforts elsewhere.” She said Miami-Dade is in talks with “national firms” for a naming deal, and the Heat organization is cooperating.
In a statement, the Heat said: “In light of the fact that this is an open selection process administered by the Miami-Dade County government, we are not at liberty to comment.” Later, the Heat issued another statement directly addressing American in a farewell message: “Thank you, AmericanAirlines, for a phenomenal 20 years as our naming rights partner.” Referring to a separate marketing deal that has American as the team’s “exclusive airline partner,” the Heat said the carrier will “stay in the family” and continue the team’s partnership “with such a valued member of our local corporate community.”
A county consultant hired to pursue the deal, Myles Gallagher of Cleveland’s Superlative Group, told commissioners in October 2018 that the Miami arena was worth at least triple the $2 million paid by American. “Six million is very conservative,” Gallagher said. Mayor Gimenez told commissioners: “We think it’s a very good opportunity for us to make a lot more money than we make now.”
American pays about $6 million a year for its NBA sponsorship of the arena where the Dallas Mavericks play, though that venue is also home to a full season of professional hockey as the home of the NHL’s Dallas Stars.
Heat representatives cautioned that the naming rights are just one part of a larger sponsorship package it was able to negotiate with American, a deal that includes various marketing elements still controlled by the team. The county agreement requires the Heat to put a new sponsor’s name at center court and use it in certain materials, but does not require contributing arena seats or other perks that can boost the value.
If the final sponsorship deal is worth more than $2 million, that will end up meaning more revenue for Miami-Dade. There’s risk, too. If the county can’t land a sponsor by Jan. 1, it’s required to pay the Heat $2 million in sponsorship revenue even if no deal is in place. Superlative Group negotiated a 5 percent commission on any sponsorship revenue, as well.